College of LAS launches new Science Communication Certificate


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Iowa State approved a new certificate for science communication in December. 

Katelyn Squiers

Undergraduates at Iowa State have the opportunity to earn a new certificate that concentrates on science communication and interdisciplinary collaboration. 

The Science Communication Certificate, approved in December 2021, is comprised of 21 credits from multiple departments, including the Department of Geological and Atmospheric Sciences, the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies and the Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Topics such as scientific knowledge and reasoning, ethics and equality and multi-modal communication are “priorities that the courses will address in different ways,” said Dr. Linda Shenk, associate professor and steering committee member for the certificate. “But these priorities will echo across courses in differing ways and in different degrees.”

The goal of the certificate is for students to leave with the ability to understand science controversies, address misinformation in the media and contribute to multi-perspective discussions. 

It is designed to help students “explore a newer approach to science that involves co-producing knowledge with the public rather than just presenting it to them,” Shenk said. 

Iowa State offers a technical communication major and minor, but the science communication certificate provides a program with a distinct focus on science, and the type of audiences science communicators are likely to encounter.

“In technical communication, you’re usually working with an audience that is either neutral or excited to get your message,” said Dr. Jeanine Aune, teaching professor and steering committee member for the certificate. “But in science communication… we’re likely dealing with preconceptions or anxiety towards the message, or even outright hostility.” 

The certificate’s creation is the result of several years of conversation surrounding communication’s role in science, both within Iowa State and nationally. 

“There’s been a great realization that better information isn’t necessarily helping us get to action,” Shenk said. 

The National Science Foundation (NSF) launched its Smart & Connected Communities Effort in support of increased community engagement in science and engineering in 2016

Many universities and organizations, such as the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, have also developed training programs in science communication. However, according to Shenk, none of the other regents’ universities in Iowa offer a certificate or minor in science communication. 

“The Science Communication Certificate is the first of its kind in the state,” Shenk said. 

Some students are already taking advantage of the new certificate. Marisa Lageveen, a sophomore in global resource systems, will begin coursework for the certificate in fall 2022. 

“I am grateful to be able to have an opportunity to attend a university that opts for something like this,” Lageveen said. “I think [the certificate] aligns with my beliefs personally and professionally, and it aligns with where we need to be heading globally.”

Lageveen intends to become an environmental liaison between scientists and stakeholders in business. Before the certificate’s approval, Lageveen planned to pursue an entrepreneurial studies minor followed by a Master of Business Administration or a master’s degree in communication. 

“[The certificate] provides additional structure and knowledge and skill that otherwise I would not have received in an entrepreneurial minor,” Lageveen said. 

Additional information about the Science Communication Certificate can be found on the Iowa State University Catalog Page.